Setting out vision for future ties, Britain’s May presses Brexit plans
Prime Minister Theresa May published her blueprint for relations with the European Union after Brexit on Thursday, hoping to keep close trade ties but dropping that goal for Britain’s financial services industry in what the sector called “a real blow”.
With less than nine months before Britain leaves the bloc, May has been under pressure to spell out her position to unblock the all-but-stalled talks with the EU that will shape Britain’s biggest shift in foreign and trade policies for decades.
In a long-awaited white paper policy document, her government said its negotiating position had “evolved”. There was one major shift – abandoning plans for close ties for financial services, Britain’s biggest export industry.
But in other areas, the government outlined its plans in the 98-page document to retain the closest possible ties with the bloc, including participating in its agencies for chemicals, aviation and medicines in a move aimed at pleasing business.
By pushing for close ties, the paper does little to ease the anger of Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative Party. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “I would like having voted to leave to leave, not to half-leave.”
And it did not get a ringing endorsement from U.S. President Donald Trump, who said in Brussels before the white paper’s publication he was not sure May’s approach was what Britain voted for in the 2016 referendum.
In response, May said the proposal was “delivering on the vote of the British people to take back control of our money, our laws and our borders”.
Dominic Raab, appointed Brexit minister on Monday after his predecessor quit in protest at the government’s approach, presented the white paper to parliament, saying: “Now, it is time for the EU to respond in kind.”
“We approach these negotiations with a spirit of pragmatism, compromise and, indeed, friendship, I hope, I trust that the EU will engage with our proposals in the same spirit,” he said to jeers from lawmakers who were not given the document.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he would analyse the paper with member states and the European Parliament and repeated the bloc’s offer for an ambitious free trade agreement with “effective cooperation” on issues.
May was forced to put her cards on the table after repeated warnings from businesses and EU officials that she was running out of time to prevent Britain from crashing out of the bloc without a deal in a chaotic Brexit.
She thrashed out an agreement at her Chequers country residence on Friday, but that was undermined when two of her leading ministers quit in protest at her plan to keep close trade ties.
Her team had hoped the publication of the white paper would ease concerns among many Brexit supporters after the resignations of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit negotiator David Davis. But it seemed to have done little to calm a simmering rebellion in her Conservative Party. Reuters